Brazil’s highest court orders highways to be unblocked

RIO DE JANEIRO – The Supreme Federal Court of Brazil ordered the federal highway police on Tuesday to immediately clear hundreds of highways throughout the country blocked by truckers who support Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and who are unaware of the president’s defeat in Sunday’s elections by part of former leftist president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

A majority of the court’s judges backed the decision, which accuses the highway police of “omission and inertia.” Failure to comply means its director can be fined up to 100,000 reais (more than $19,000) per hour, removed from his duties and even face arrest.

Federal prosecutors in the states of Sao Paulo and Goiás said they had opened investigations into the blockades.

By noon Tuesday, highway police had removed 306 roadblocks, but more than 260 remained.

Bolsonaro has not spoken publicly since the official results were released on Sunday night, nor has he called Lula to admit his victory.

“There is no doubt that, although he is not directly responsible for these actions, everything he has done as president fueled this, especially the questioning of the electoral process and the ballots,” said Williams Gonçalves, professor of Political Science at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Much like former US President Donald Trump, Bolsonaro has repeatedly questioned the reliability of the country’s electoral system, claiming that electronic voting machines are prone to fraud. He never provided any evidence, not even when ordered by the electoral tribunal. The far-right president openly admires Trump.

“Bolsonaro is completely isolated. All those responsible for other institutions have already recognized the results of the elections”, stressed Gonçalves.

Bolsonaro lost the race by a very narrow margin, obtaining 49.1% of the vote against 50.9% for Lula. It has been the closest presidential race since Brazil’s return to democracy in 1985.

In Sao Paulo, the most populous state and with the largest economy in Brazil, traffic jams on the highway to and from the international airport caused dozens of flights to be cancelled.

Social networks spread videos of travelers walking with their suitcases at night along the highway to the airport to try to catch their flights. Access was partially restored as of Tuesday morning, but airport officials said access remained difficult as there were still traffic jams.

At another roadblock in Sao Paulo state, protesters set tires on fire. Several protesters were wrapped in the Brazilian flag, whose colors have been used by the nation’s conservative movement in demonstrations. Huge lines of cars could be seen winding along the highway.

In Minas Gerais, a key state during the elections, a video on social media showed a protester telling an O Tempo reporter that the election was “fraudulent” and warning of more protests. “We will not stop until we have an answer from our president,” the man assured. “We want Bolsonaro in 2023 and for the years that follow,” he added.

Bolsonaro has broad support from the police forces and it was not clear how effective his participation in the protests would be.

Lula’s Workers’ Party accused Bolsonaro’s campaign of deploying police force to create traffic jams and prevent people from voting on election day, after videos of officers stopping buses spread on social media.

Alexandre de Moraes, who heads the nation’s electoral authority, said voters did make it to the polls and were simply delayed by police checkpoints.

In 2018, an 11-day truckers’ strike brought Brazil to a standstill, sending food prices soaring and leaving supermarket shelves bare while gas stations ran out of fuel. The protest caused multi-million dollar losses and revealed the great power truck drivers possess, particularly when they organize through social media.

Bolsonaro, a lawmaker at the time and months before winning that year’s presidential election, was an outspoken supporter of the truckers, who became an electoral base for him. This year, his administration capped interstate fuel taxes to help lower prices and launched a financial aid program for truckers months before the presidential election campaign.

On Tuesday, dozens of journalists from national and international media remained camped outside the presidential residence in the capital, Brasilia, waiting for any sign that Bolsonaro might speak about the elections or the roadblocks.

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Bridi reported from Brasilia

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Brazil’s highest court orders highways to be unblocked